Buzzworm news briefs

Radio in living color

How much would you pay to see a show featuring one of the comic masterminds behind Saturday Night Live? Would you pay even more knowing the program features a best-selling author and one of the most-talked-about political satirists in the country?

Well, come Nov. 30, the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium in Asheville will get all three in the form of one Al Franken. Local progressive-talk radio station WPEK-880 AM (which is owned by Clear Channel Communications and bills itself as “The Revolution”) is bringing Franken’s Air America Radio show to town for a live broadcast, part of a multicity barnstorming tour.

But before you estimate how much you’re willing to pay to see the five-time Emmy-winning comic skewer the latest meaty political issue, know this: Tickets aren’t selling very well. In fact, they’re not selling at all — the show is free.

You’ll still need to get your hands on a ticket, and according to WPEK program director Brian Hall, the gratis tickets (available at nine local businesses) are moving fast. That doesn’t surprise Hall, who reports that the station, which just celebrated its one-year anniversary on the Asheville airways, is growing in popularity.

“Our Arbitron [ratings] numbers are up — we’ve doubled to tripled the audience in some parts of the day,” Hall says. “It’s a tremendous sign that folks here want progressive radio.”

In a phone interview, Franken told Xpress that taking the political talk show on the road and performing in front of live audiences around the country has exposed him to what he views as encouraging trends. “In terms of progressive politics, things are happening in the states and communities that aren’t happening in Washington, because Washington is controlled by the Republican Party. For example, there are now over 200 cities in the country that have pledged to adhere to the Kyoto Protocol — and it’s growing all the time.

“The country hasn’t shifted to the right — it’s in the same place it was,” Franklin added. If anything, he later commented, “folks are getting more liberal.”

Whether or not Franken’s right about that, it’s safe to expect a liberal dose of humor-laden “irony and outrage” (as Franken describes his act) at the live performance of his program. Doors at the auditorium will open at 11 a.m., and the show will run from noon to 3 p.m.

Tickets are available at the following locations: Greenlife Grocery, Greenberry’s Coffee Infusion, The Orange Peel, Sims Futon Gallery, Finkelstein’s Pawn Shop, The Dog and Pony Show, Asheville Pet Supply, Haywood Park Hotel and Sweeten Creek Antiques.

— Brian Sarzynski

Asheville’s a “Cool City” — officially

When President George W. Bush pulled the United States out of the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement to curb global warming by reducing fossil-fuel emissions, a grassroots movement sprung up in municipalities across the country to commit cities to the international agreement’s pollution-reduction goals.

Now, Asheville’s outgoing mayor, Charles Worley, has become the 188th city leader to sign the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection agreement. On Nov. 16, as Mayor-elect Terry Bellamy looked approvingly on, Worley publicly accepted an award from the Sierra Club designating Asheville as a “Cool City” in an auspiciously chilly ceremony on the steps of City Hall. Holly Jones and Robin Cape, the top two vote-getters in the recent City Council election, also attended the presentation, which was organized by the locally based Clean Air Community Trust and the regional Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

The mayors’ agreement is a nonbinding commitment to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions in each city to 7 percent less than 1990 levels by 2012. Asheville is already well on its way toward that goal, Worley noted, thanks to measures the city’s taking that will reduce carbon emissions by more than 1,000 tons per year. These include a pending purchase of hybrid Ford Escapes for the city’s fleet, a nearly completed compressed natural gas filling station by McCormick Field that will also be open to the public, a fleet of electric vehicles used by the city’s parking enforcers, and a new Transportation Demand Management office, funded by the state Department of Transportation, that will take steps to improve public transit and make carpooling easier for Asheville-area commuters.

“We talk about these things on a national and international level, but it all begins locally,” Worley declared. He said that signing the agreement was “something I’ve been contemplating for a number of months,” and that he was “delighted” to do so when Marjorie Meares, the director of the Trust, approached him about it several weeks ago.

Thanks to Sierra Club member and Mission Hospital employee Richard Fireman, the agreement also won enthusiastic support from the area’s largest employer. Mission Hospital CEO Joe Damore spoke in favor of ride-sharing options for commuters as a means to reduce the region’s high pollution-related asthma rates. Rev. Steve Runholt, pastor at Warren Wilson College, also expressed the support of the N.C. Council of Churches.

“Cities are taking steps toward cleaner cars, energy efficiency and renewable energy, and in doing so are renewing themselves,” said Sierra Club spokeswoman Christa Wagner. She’s making stops in her gas-sipping hybrid car at Durham, Chapel Hill and Charlotte as well, as part of the organization’s “Cool Cities” tour throughout the Midwest, New England and the Southeast to recognize mayors in those coal-dependent regions who have joined the carbon-reduction agreement. The Sierra Club has released a new guide for citizens and local officials, “Cool Cities: Solving Global Warming One City at a Time.”

Visit to learn more.

— Steve Rasmussen

Avoiding the draft

The WNC Green Building Council and Community Action Opportunities will offer Energy Savers workshops in Black Mountain on Thursday, Dec. 1, and in Asheville on Thursday, Dec. 8. During the 5 to 7 p.m. sessions, homeowners will learn simple and inexpensive ways to save energy dollars by fixing the most common air-leakage problems. In addition, home-energy efficiency prizes will be given away. Admission to the workshops, which are free to WNCGBC members, is $10 for nonmembers. Preregistration is required, and space is limited.

For more information or to register, e-mail or call 232-5080.

— Cecil Bothwell

Such a waste

Sewage is a topic that few people like to think about, so getting a group of Asheville-area residents to spend their afternoon at a sewage treatment plant can be something of a tough sell. But RiverLink, a local nonprofit that focuses on water-quality issues, is collaborating with the Metropolitan Sewerage District (MSD) to do just that.

“It’s not just as simple as you brush your teeth, the water goes down the drain and its gone,” says Alesha Myers, RiverLink’s volunteer coordinator. “There’s a whole cycle, both natural and unnatural, and it’s important for people to understand.”

The MSD has something of a thankless job. Their plant is responsible for collecting, treating and returning more than 40 million gallons per day of waste water and raw sewage to the local watershed. Yet, very few people in the community have a solid understanding of exactly how they do it.

“A lot of people think that they add chlorine or bleach to the water, but they don’t,” says Myers, adding that one of the main reasons for the tour is to dispel myths like this. “It’s just a natural, biological process that they are using to clean it up.”

Surprisingly enough, MSD tours can fill up quickly, so if you’ve got an open window in your schedule at noon on Wednesday, Nov. 30, now’s the time to call RiverLink at 252-8474, ext. 118, to make a reservation. Otherwise your afternoon might just go down the drain.

— Steve Shanafelt

Speaking out in Asheville

Local members of, an Internet-based progressive activist group, staged a Nov. 16 demonstration in Pack Square as part of a nationwide campaign to block more than $50 billion in proposed social-services cuts over five years. The Asheville participants asked Rep. Charles Taylor to vote “no” on the bill, then pending before Congress.

The effort proved fruitless as Taylor voted in favor of the cuts in a roll-call vote the next day, according to the U.S. House of Representatives Web site. The bill, which passed 217-215, will now go to a House/Senate conference committee, where differences between the two versions will be resolved.

But the Pack Square activists made no bones about their opinions of the cutbacks, citing a wide range of concerns.

Asheville attorney Leah Broker said, “Even though what they’re proposing doesn’t affect me, it affects my clients, many of whom are homeless.”

Asheville resident John Russell told the group, “If this budget passes, many people in North Carolina will be looking at empty plates this Thanksgiving.” Asheville attorney Susan Wilson detailed how the proposed cuts would directly affect the families she works with in the Guardian ad Litem program. “One mother in one of my cases was able to get her son back with the aid of daycare subsidies, housing subsidies and food stamps. … She is employed and earning more than many people with a GED, but … she needed the very benefits that this budget will be slashing to supplement her income in order to meet minimum standards to be reunited with her son.”

And Asheville resident David Reeves-Brown, describing himself as “a 100 percent service-connected, totally disabled, Vietnam-era veteran,” took sharp aim at his congressional representative. “Last week, on Veteran’s Day, Charles Taylor gave a speech about veterans. … This week, however, the silence is deafening. I am asking Charles Taylor to stand with veterans now and to vote no on any budget that reduces funding for veterans.”

Following the speak-out, most of the group proceeded to Taylor’s nearby office in the Jackson Building to register their objections with his staff. There, they were allowed to sign a guest register and were told that the congressman values citizen input.

At press time, Taylor’s office had not returned repeated phone calls concerning his position on the budget vote or his reaction to the concerns raised by the demonstrators.

— Cecil Bothwell

When the Yankees captured Santa, and other tales

Not many folks think of Victorian times when the term “pop culture” makes its way into conversation, but according to the Smith-McDowell House Museum newsletter, “Popular culture has been affecting the way people celebrate Christmas since early in the 19th century.”

So, travel to Christmas past by visiting the museum’s rooms, each decorated to reflect a Yuletide celebration from 1840 through 1890. Why this time frame? Because the Smith-McDowell house, the oldest surviving home in Asheville, was constructed in 1840. The antebellum mansion, originally situated on a plantation, was saved from demolition in 1974 and opened as a museum in 1981.

The 1840s room, in the house’s lower-level kitchen, smells strongly of cinnamon. “This reflects a time when everyone made their own” holiday fare, explains museum historian Sylvia Organ. “It was a time when Christmas was a feast for your family.” The 1850s room, an upper-level bedroom, also shows simple decorations of evergreens, fruits and an advent wreath.

By the 1860s, small gifts came into popularity, as demonstrated by the Christmas tree covered with candy, nuts, toys and candles (with a bucket of water close at hand). “Particularly in the South, everything was hard to come by,” Organ says of the Civil War years. “Some children were told the Northerners had captured Santa Claus, so he wouldn’t be coming.”

The exhibit for the following decade is a spider-web party — a maze game culled from the pages of a vintage children’s magazine. Family members each followed a colored thread, unraveling their piece of the carefully woven web to discover their gift. The Christmas tree from that year is a forerunner to the artificial type: The previous year’s tree was stripped of its needles, each branch wrapped in white felt, and dubbed a “snow tree.”

Finally, the 1880s and ’90s rooms evidence lush Victorian themes with showy peacock feather decorations, ribbons and trimmed trees large enough to set on the floor rather than on a table top. The earliest artificial trees, fashioned from feathers, had become available. Children’s toys took up residence under the boughs, and glass ornaments, made accessible by the railroad, abounded. “It really was a children’s celebration,” Organ notes.

Now, jump forward most of the century. The 1880 and 1890 rooms on the ground floor are just across the hall from a new installment: The Aluminum Tree Museum. This collection of more than 250 artificial trees (only some of which are on display) represents a popular holiday trend between World War II and the 1970s. Check out campy and sentimentally themes, like the Wizard of Oz tree, the Star Wars tree and the Crystal Gayle tree.

“When you think of snow trees and feather trees, tinsel trees go right along with that,” points out house manager Tammy Walsh. “Many people think of old houses as kind of stuffy and stagnate, but [the Smith-McDowell House] proves aluminum trees weren’t the first crazy Christmas thing ever invented.”

Visit the Pop Culture Christmas exhibit, on now display through Jan. 6. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission during the Christmas season is $7/adults, $6/students and $5/children ages 5-18. Call 253-9231 for more information.

— Alli Marshall


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